Sunday, January 19, 2014
Entropy, Death, Nano Medicine, Immortality
We have all experienced death in some fashion or another, death is disorder, death is entropy taking its toll upon the ordered systems of biology that create our lives. As living creatures, we are inherently anti-entropic. At every level we are in defiance of entropy, from genetic, to cellular to systemic. Our purpose it seems is to build up complexity in defiance of disorder.
What meaning can we find from the chaos of dispersion? Some say that the point of life is death, many human philosophies are built upon this principal. Still others say that the point of life is to transcend to a realm where entropy does not exist. My question is, are either of these realistic?
First, is it true that every creature dies? Of course everything CAN die, but does everything age? Or more importantly, are there creatures that do not age? The answer to this question turns out to be yes. There are many examples such as the hydra , a small tentacled microorganism that is literally immortal. Also many trees do not experience aging, one tree known as Methuselah is thought to be thousands of years old.
So what? Trees and tiny jellyfish? How does that translate to human beings? Doesn't it seem evident that every organism similar to us ages? This logic is based upon a fallacy that different kinds of life are more different than they actually are. We may be organized in different patterns than trees or microorganisms, but inherently we share almost the same DNA and chemical structures for our cells. That which makes us different is far more insignificant than that which makes us the same.
So we are all basically the same on the cellular level, so why do some creatures age and others don't? No one knows, but there are some good theories out there, one of which is that aging is essentially an evolutionary mechanism to prevent animals from reproducing after a certain age. The reason behind this mechanism is that the longer a creature lives, the more likely its DNA is to be corrupted by cosmic radiation or other damaging effects.
On this planet (and every planet) there is a constant stream of radiation coming from space, it goes right through ordinary matter and keeps on going. There is some small chance that you will be hit by cosmic radiation and that it will cause a mutation in your DNA. If you live long enough, its inevitably going to happen. So why does aging act as a natural evolutionary mechanism to prevent this effect?
The earlier in your life that you make copies of your genetic code, the more likely you are to still have a relatively intact copy of your genome, the more intact the copy, the more healthy your off spring will be. This means that there are evolutionary advantages to stopping an organism from reproducing after a certain age, and because evolution doesn't care what happens to you after you reproduce, the most efficient way for this to happen is a self imposed death after a certain age, such as what we see in virtually all animals.
There are probably even disadvantages to an organism reproducing after a certain age. The organism would be devoting resources to ever more disadvantaged children, resources that could go to grandchildren who are more likely to carry better copies of your genome. Also, the resources used by the parent organism itself could go to the grandchildren, once the organism has passed a certain age and level of DNA code corruption, it is from an evolutionary point of view nothing but a drain on the resources of its progeny, and so it is expedient to have organisms commit suicide on the cellular level in order to allow resources to pass to the next generation.
So it is incredibly likely that aging is a self induced process, this means that it is probably easy to turn off on the genetic level. This is on approach to anti aging that has already enjoyed huge success with many positive results extending the lifespan of animals like rats with only simple genetic manipulation.
There is also another way to approach this problem. Aging induces a number of damaging effects on our body. These effects are actually quite easy to reverse if treated on an individual level. This brings us to nano medicine, the idea of treating the body on a molecular level. One of the most promising of technologies in this field is nano robotics.
There are already in existence advanced nano robots that are capable of delivering a single molecule of a medicine to a very specific location in your body. This means that drugs with a high level of toxicity can be used without inducing the toxic effects. Humanity has discovered many many substances with profound medical implications, yet we are restrained from using them because they cannot be targeted accurately enough to stop them from damaging everything.
With nano bots, the drug can be safely held until it reaches the place it is needed, so that it has only the positive effects upon your body. With the help of the nano robots, it is now appearing increasingly likely that we can defeat any disease, fix any injury and reverse aging with relative ease.
What this means for our lives is probably to profound to consider from this point of view in history. The obvious aspect is that almost every disease or condition we consider to be a scourge of the medical world will be brushed aside with little effort. We can realistically expect to live indefinitely should we survive long enough to see these technologies come into every day use.
One must consider how our philosophies will adapt to this change, since many of our ideas about what is important in life have to do with accomplishing something before the inevitable demise. I believe we will live slower, more meditative lives, based on taking time to observe and feel rather than to rush ahead with ventures and projects.
The question is, how soon will these technologies come? No one knows, but based on the trend of exponential technology and the already incredible accomplishments in genetic therapy and nano technology, it could be as soon as ten years. So get ready to be indefinite.